FOX’s ‘Gotham’ detects its third installment in “The Balloonman,” as Gordon and Bullock pursue a vigilante killing corrupt city officials via weather balloon, while Oswald Cobblepot returns to the city, and word of his supposed demise puts Gordon's career at risk.

Last week's ‘Gotham' installment "Selina Kyle" saw the future Catwoman (Camren Bicondova) kidnapped by a child-trafficking ring, while Oswald Cobblepot struggled to regain a foothold outside of Gotham City, and Fish Mooney faced Don Carmine Falcone, so how does FOX’s latest episode of Bat-prequel drama shine a light on the city's villainous beginnings?

Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘Gotham’ episode 3, “The Balloonman”!

We’ve had a good deal of fun at ‘Gotham’’s expense after only two episodes, and I’ll be honest in telling you that I dreaded finally watching my “Balloonman” screener after the dizzyingly campy train wreck that was last week's “Selina Kyle.” It certainly didn’t help to have Oswald Cobblepot babbling about his and ‘Gotham’’s mutual destinies in the promos, or to have a silly-sounding name like “The Balloonman” touting a premise that seemed like the show’s most unapologetically ridiculous yet. Imagine my surprise then, that this … this was actually okay!

What really helped “The Balloonman” overall speaks to how the series might succeed going forward, namely utilizing its villains to ask actual questions relevant to a Batman origin story, rather than trot out the kiddie version of every villain or cram in as many Bat-foreshadowings as humanly possible. After all, we would need to see the titular city in an incredibly desperate state for genuine vigilantes to emerge, and the Balloonman’s killing spree actually calls into question how the putdown citizens of Gotham might feel about someone taking the law into their own hands. The story flops around the idea of how that impacts an adolescent Bruce, but when Gordon and Bullock have to consider the morality behind a man picking off corrupt citizens, the city itself gains much more of the fleshed-out characterization producers promised of the series early on.

On the whole ,‘Gotham’’s biggest issues to date have proven an inability to decide on a balance of camp and character, or needlessly hammering home points for its audience to consider, though tonight seemed to be on a slightly more even keel. Sure, you’ve still got neon signs popping into frame to suggest “BRUCE IS WONDERING WHO WILL DEFEND THE PEOPLE OF GOTHAM,” or characters like Detective Cranston or Sal Maroni (David Zayas) flagging down the episode’s point-of-view characters to ask “HEY, DID YOU HEAR THAT IMPORTANT EXPOSITION I JUST DELIVERED? LET ME REITERATE MY CHARACTER SIGNIFICANCE, EAVESDROPPING STRANGER,” though ideally ‘Gotham’ will get better at fleshing out character beats with time.

Similarly, the other side of tonight’s installment sees Cobblepot continuing his murderous return to ‘Gotham,” as the story quickly grew disinterested in keeping its Penguin out of the main thrust any longer. The episode’s final moments definitely pack a punch in setting up a complicated relationship with Gordon, though it seems entirely to have skipped over any development of Cobblepot’s character that would earn such a dramatic (and well-dressed reveal). That very much rings true for the series’ criminal characters overall as well, given Fish Mooney got a few more beats to sneer out her hatred of Carmine Falcone, without really bothering to establish any of the emotional stakes that would have us investing in its references to “Arkham,” the city’s criminal future, or which mobster would best be the one to lead it.

"Wait, did we come all the way down here just to say you saw the guy's face?"

All in all, “The Balloonman” likely gave us the strongest ‘Gotham’ to date, pilot included, though that isn’t saying very much after last week. The inherent problems of the series itself remain, as where characters like Alfred and Bruce manage to convey very jovial and emotionally truthful relationships with very limited screentime, the story can’t really justify their presences beyond “Bruce wonders what to do in the wake of his parents’ death, also starts eating again.” The same goes for Barbara Kean, who thus far has been given little character of her own beyond Gordon’s devoted fiancée, and a jilted ex to Renee Montoya. Montoya and Allen fare no better either, as the narrative seems uncertain where to place them beyond a thorn in Gordon’s side, one they’re essentially justified in providing, under the circumstances

The series would float much more freely without the mythology setups constantly weighing things down, instead focusing on the real issues of corruption and vigilantism that make Gordon and Bruce such compelling characters to begin with. “Balloonman” certainly feels like a step along the right path, sharpening the dynamic relationship between its two lead detectives, and keeping a bit of fun in the investigative aspects without descending too far into camp territory. Exaggerated characters like Oswald or Fish still feel a bit clunky, just as the detective stories deny any real opportunity to service the supporting cast, but it’s admittedly early yet. To put things bluntly, I don’t think I’ll be dragging my feet quite so much next week when it comes to a new episode. Touche, ‘Gotham.’


  • So ... wait, did no one ever try rescuing the Balloonman's victims? They're spoken of as murder victims with no bodies to recover, though the Cardinal was clearly still alive on the news report. Do they not have helicopters in this "era?"
  • That really was a fun little duel between Alfred and Bruce, even if the episode didn't have any real need for the characters.
  • Assuming we count the second fratboy from last week, Cobblepot's post-exile murder count jumps to 5. Way to go, Gordon!
  • Hard not to notice 'Legit''s Dan Bakkedahl in a fairly thankless role early on as Selina's social worker, though to the episode's credit, 'Law & Order' logic wouldn't necessarily spoil his return as the killer.
  • I enjoy how neither Bullock nor Gordon could deduce that a balloon might eventually pop.
  • Weren't Gordon and the Balloonman significantly higher than their safe fall to the van would below would imply?
  • ...Does Barara and Jim's bed face the apartment's front door?

Well, what say you? Did ‘Gotham’’s third episode “The Balloonman” help set the stage any further for Batman's beginning? How do you think the prequel drama fared in its campiest outing yet? Give us your thoughts in the comments, and check back next week for our review of ‘Gotham' episode 4, "Arkham" on FOX!